Wednesday, August 13, 2014

How deep can Chicago roots be?

It always amuses me to learn of someone of prominence who can place the name “Chicago, Ill.” on a form as their place of birth, even though their career would never give us any indication they had any connection with the Second City.

There’s Walt Disney (whose animated creations continue to generate royalties even though he is long gone from this realm of existence) and Raquel Welch (compared to her, girls such as Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry are just a couple of foolish tarts), to name a couple.

AND NOW WE can add Robin Williams to the list.

The 63-year-old comedian and actor allegedly was coping with depression, and there are those who suspect his ills may have caused him this week to take an action that cost him his life. Autopsies will soon give us the gory details – for those of us who care.

But I’m not sure it matters much about the man born in 1951 at then-Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Hospital and raised until he was 8 in suburban Lake Bluff and Lake Forest.

His life’s work is going to live on so long as copies of his films don’t deteriorate into dust, and so long as the ME-TV thinks it is worthy for them to include “Mork and Mindy” among the ranks of long-cancelled programs they continue to air.

CONSIDERING THAT WE can still watch “Bosom Buddies” (Tom Hanks in drag) and “Welcome Back, Kotter” (which really did deteriorate when John Travolta left the show for bigger and better things), it ought to be a safe bet that they can find a place for early Robin Williams whose absurd behavior was just supposedly the way a being from space behaved when surrounded by mere Earthlings.

I’m old enough to remember when that was a prime-time program, and when we got our introduction to Williams as a guy who could make us laugh with the ramblings off the top of his head. So much of that show and Williams’ bits were unscripted.

But unlike people such as Ron Palillo, whose own obituaries a couple of years ago highlighted a career that went nowhere once his “Kotter” role as “Arnold Horshack” came to an end, Williams went on to bigger things in film.

He even got an Academy Award “best supporting actor” for his role in “Good Will Hunting,” where he served as a street-smart counselor of sorts to actor Matt Damon’s namesake lead character.

ALTHOUGH I’M INCLINED to remember him most for that role he had as a private school teacher in “Dead Poets’ Society.” Even if, in the end, “the captain” was forced to resign his job for having placed all kinds of deep thoughts into the heads of his students.

Even his moment as a gay Miami Beach nightclub owner in “Birdcage” sticks in my mind (largely because I saw it on late-night television recently, but also because it is darned near impossible to forget the site of actor Gene Hackman in a hideous drag queen disguise).

Williams’ Chicago connections may have come to an end when the family moved while he was still a child – first to Michigan, then to San Francisco where he graduated high school and began the path that led to him being a memorable professional entertainer.

But you just know there are those among us who are going to want to claim him for one of our own – as though somehow something was inseminated into his essence as a child that made him so funny as an adult.

FOR THOSE OF us trying to make sense out of the loss of Williams, perhaps we can think to ourselves that “Mork” has merely gone back to “Ork.”

As we read this, he’s giving a detailed account of his decades of life on Earth with Mindy – while also offending his boss, Orson, with a series of one-liners about his girth.


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